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Patients had to wait too long for cataract operation

Ombudsman issues three reprimands to Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District  for unlawful action

15.6.2010

Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen has given the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District (HUS) three reprimands because patients had to wait for a cataract operation at the Helsinki University Central Hospital's (HYKS) eye diseases clinic for longer than the Treatment Guarantee allows. Under the Treatment Guarantee, patients must receive special medical care within six months of the need for it having been assessed.

HUS explained that in 2009 waiting lists for cataract operations were from time to time so long within the HYKS medical treatment area that commencements of treatment in accordance with the Act on Specialised Medical Care were delayed. The situation worsened in the latter half of the year and the waiting period in March 2010 was about eight months.

In late 2009 and early 2010 complaints were made to the Ombudsman by three persons, all of whom had been waiting for a cataract operation for longer than the maximum time allowed under the Treatment Guarantee. One patient had been waiting for the operation for over ten months. The patients had been left to wait for an indeterminate period and the operation dates announced had been repeatedly put back without explaining the reason for this. The patients themselves had to phone the so-called waiting list manager to find out when their operation was to take place. Calls could only be made for two hours a day and the number was usually engaged.

The Ombudsman points out that HUS has acted unlawfully in the arrangement of treatment and neglected its statutory duties. He emphasises that the six-month waiting time is a maximum period, within which treatment that has been medically determined as necessary must be arranged. If HUS was not able to provide treatment itself in this time, it should have procured treatment from some other service producer.

Nor may patients be left to wait for treatment for an indeterminate period; instead, they must be told the date when the treatment will be provided. If the date announced changes, the patient must be immediately informed of the new date and told why it has been changed.

An additional matter that emerged when the complaints were being investigated was that entries in the patient records had not been made in the way the regulations require. The records did not indicate the estimated dates on which the complainants would receive treatment, the reasons for delays in providing treatment, nor was there any entry indicating that the patients had been given this information. The documents likewise did not reveal who had assessed the patient's need for treatment.

The Ombudsman did not find it in accordance with good administration, either, that the waiting list manager could not be contacted by telephone.

Additional info will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Kaija Tanttinen-Laakkonen, tel. + 358 (0)9 4321.